“A haystack of lies and obfuscation”. No, Boris Johnson wasn’t talking about the Heil front page but the Russian reaction as we hurtle toward another Cold War.
Football doesn’t worry about such things beyond fixing the draws on European competitions so clubs from warring nations don’t meet each other. Or, in a typically FIFA response, banning a football federation.
Anyway, that’s for lesser minds than mine to sort out. Suffice to say, there’s a strong feeling of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” about Infantino at FIFA and Ceferin is fast-tracking himself down the same road.
Petr Cech made an appearance on television yesterday and I was minded of the Monty Python lion-tamer sketch; Petr is a footballer who wants to be an accountant. But he’s also a bloody nice bloke; we know that from the back pages and the time he took to speak with Ryan Mason and his family.
So, when a nice bloke speaks, you listen. And it was sort of uncomfortable listening if you were Arsène, in a nice way:
“At Chelsea, we never decided which competition you play, it was a game by game process.
“If you kept playing well then you were fit and you didn’t need rest then the manager had his choice to pick the goalkeeper for the competitions.
“Sometimes I would sit a game out or be on the bench but it would not be decided, ‘You play this competition, you play this competition’.
“I enjoyed that because I love this competition, for example, to be involved and play FA Cup games. Any other competition makes it a bit more spicy and special.”
Competition for places isn’t something which the Arsenal are familiar with in recent years. Probably for the past decade, if we’re honest.
“Pick me, Pick me” Screams the Desperate Kid
There’s a major obstacle to competition for places at Arsenal, beyond the calibre of players we currently have. A central plank of Arsène’s philosophy is the harmonious dressing room. Which he has on the surface but to paraphrase Burn Notice, footballers are a bunch of bitchy little girls talking out of school.
And inherent in competition for places is the uncomfortable mix of wanting the team to do well but your rival to underwhelm. Jens Lehmann’s view of Manuel Almunia while the Spaniard was his rival is unprintable and Almunia is a bloody nice bloke.
Contrast that with the ‘nice guys’ Giroud and Walcott who were too passive to make a fuss as they warmed the bench. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left for the same reason and while people want the former pair to do well, the latter is public enemy #2194. Some are happy for the former to do well but want the latter to fall flat on his Arsenal. I’m ambivalent toward all three.
But the German’s spikiness was his competitive streak, his will to win. The hope is that new arrivals are able to bring the same to the squad rather than becoming infected with the niceness which currently pervades the club.
That would be an issue if we had the depth to create competition for places; the years of under-investment is evident.
We have two goalkeepers but as Cech says, it’s not how Wenger set out his stall. Is that a sop to Ospina? He needs regular(ish) first-team football to meet his international aspirations while none of our younger goalkeepers is ready if Cech gets injured. They simply don’t have the experience to take on the Number One shirt, but if they don’t play, they can’t get experience.
I Reel Off the Times That I was Ignored
Therein is the rub. Football more than ever before is based on squad rotation; it’s a squad game, Brian. No player registers the 60 – 70 club appearances per season which were the norm thirty years ago. Players are finely-honed athletes and with more awareness of the demands on their bodies, an ever-present in the side is a rarity.
But that doesn’t negate the need for competition for places. Who is Hector Bellerin’s rival? Chambers? Maitland-Niles? Hec isn’t losing any sleep over his place in the starting line-up nor are the centre-backs.
It’s easier to look at positions where competition exists. Left-back to some extent; attacking midfield, dependent upon injuries, but as with the rest of the midfield, form rarely comes into the equation.
The intriguing question is in attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s signing put the cat among the peach trim and gold spangles. Alexandre Lacazette’s ‘timely’ injury stopped an issue forming but now that he is fit, the answer of fitting two £50m strikers into one team must present itself.
If ever there was a position feeding off confidence, striker is it. Are we set for a double-pronged attack? Fitting the duo into the team means shifting formation slightly in that sense to a 4-4-2. No Wilshere and Ramsey combo in that one; someone somewhere is going to have their nose pushed out of joint in the solution.
My guess is that this season’s solution is all about the Europa League. Wenger then has the summer to resolve the problem out or can leave it to his successor.
If only we could find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which allows us to replicate the issue all over the pitch. Then we might find ourselves with a title-challenging squad.